US and Russia discuss Syria in Geneva

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Kerry Lavrov walking
US Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov enter a hotel ballroom in Geneva, Switzerland to deliver statements about ridding Syria of its chemical weapons.

In an effort to avoid a US-led strike in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is speaking with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva, Switzerland. Russia has been encouraging the US to accept Syria’s offers to surrender chemical weapons allegedly used in an attack on civilians. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, however, has made several demands that he wants met before handing over chemical weapons.

Among them, he says that the US must remove the threat of military action against the Syrian government and also stop arming the Syrian rebels fighting in the civil war. Al-Assad said he will not finalize an arms-control proposal until “…we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack, and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists.” Kerry offered a blunt reply to al-Assad, stating, “The words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough.” Meanwhile, far less diplomatic Syrian messages are coming from the state-owned Syrian newspaper Al Watan, which said in a headline on Thursday: “Moscow and Damascus pull the rug out from under the feet of Obama.”

The United Nations is not sitting idly by either, as it considers Syria’s recent request for membership in the Chemical Weapons Convention – an international arms control agreement that forbids chemical weapons. UN lawyers are going through Syria’s request, and the legal review could take weeks.

As far as using the UN Security Council to authorize a military strike on Syria, given that Russia has veto power to cancel any votes, it’s highly unlikely that such permission would ever be granted. However, there does seem to be diplomatic progress in the US and Russia talks at the UN headquarters in Geneva. Lavrov spoke at a joint news conference with Kerry on Friday, calling his conversations with the US Secretary of State “constructive” and that he wants to “make sure this issue is resolved quickly, professionally, as soon as practical.”

Lavrov Kerry Brahimi
US Secretary of State John Kerry, United National Special Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discuss efforts to reach a political settlement in the Syrian civil war during a news conference at UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 13, 2013.

Kerry wishes to meet again in a Geneva II conference around September 28. “I would say, on behalf of the United States, that President Obama is deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria. And we know that Russia is likewise,” he said. Kerry also pointed out that they are working hard “to find the common ground to be able to make that happen.”

In addition to concerns about the Syrian government, Lavrov and Kerry both agree that the tragic Syrian refugee crisis needs to be dealt with. Kerry expressed their shared desire to address “…the acts on both sides, all sides, that are creating more and more refugees, more and more of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has preached calm and diplomacy during the international tug of war over Syria, also spoke on Friday at the UN headquarters in Geneva. He explained that al-Assad will be held responsible for his crimes, but that before it comes to that,  the main goal is “first and foremost we have to help the fighting stop and the dialogue, talking begin. That is what I have been saying: Let diplomacy have a chance and peace a chance.”

Images courtesy of US Department of State on Flickr.